Arab-European axis of friendship takes shape in Athens

Arab-European axis of friendship takes shape in Athens
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said regular meetings will be held in order to constantly expand the fields of partnership. (AFP)
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Updated 12 February 2021

Arab-European axis of friendship takes shape in Athens

Arab-European axis of friendship takes shape in Athens
  • Greek, Cypriot, Egyptian, Saudi, Bahraini, Emirati, French foreign ministers discuss closer cooperation in various fields

ATHENS: Respecting international law and national sovereignty, and pursuing peaceful resolutions to disputes, are the recipe for regional security and stability, the foreign ministers of Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and France said on Thursday at the Philia Forum in Athens.

“Our countries are connected by close relations, which come from the past and meet in everything we believe today, in international law and in the law of the sea, in peace, in good neighborly relations, as well as in stability,” said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

“It is for this reason that our initiative is open to all, without turning against anyone, transcending the borders of the states that constitute it, uniting three continents and connecting Europe with the Arab world.”

Mitsotakis said regular meetings will be held in order to constantly expand the fields of partnership.

The countries that participated in the forum — “philia” is the Greek word for “friendship” — issued a joint statement reiterating their adherence to international law, including the UN Charter, Security Council resolutions, and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, “to which we are all signatories.”

The statement stressed “our strong commitment to fundamental principles enshrined therein, such as the respect of the sovereignty, sovereign rights, independence and territorial integrity of states, the peaceful resolution of differences and rejection of threat or use of force, the non-interference in other counties’ internal affairs and the freedom of navigation.”

The seven countries recognized that “in this critical juncture, overshadowed by the global pandemic, the need to demonstrate solidarity and coordinate our efforts in order to minimize the repercussions of this health crisis on our economies is all the more urgent.”

They also expressed their readiness to promote result-oriented exchanges, as well as joint actions and initiatives in such fields as energy, innovation, digital economy, civil protection, people-to-people contacts, science, agriculture, food security, academic education and training, interfaith dialogue, culture and sports.

Diplomatic sources, speaking anonymously to Arab News, said one of the most important developments of the forum was the meeting between Mitsotakis and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan.

The ministers reiterated the excellent level of bilateral relations, and discussed ways to expand Greek-Saudi cooperation in the fields of economy, trade, investment, tourism and defense.

Greece attaches great importance to fostering closer defense cooperation with moderate Arab countries such as the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Recently, Greece and the UAE signed a mutual defense assistance agreement.

Although the forum’s participants insisted that their cooperation is not aimed against anyone, Turkish assertiveness in the region and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s firebrand Islamist rhetoric have brought them closer than ever.

Prince Faisal stressed the importance of respect for states’ territorial integrity in accordance with international law, and said Saudi Arabia views the world from the angle of peace and prosperity. “We condemn intervention in the internal affairs of other countries,” he added.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry highlighted the importance of the East Med Gas Forum (EMGF), another of the multilateral formats created in the region during the last decade. The Cairo-based EMGF aims to promote the business and political interests of its members.

Shoukry met on the sidelines of the forum with his Greek and Cypriot counterparts, Nikos Dendias and Nikos Christodoulides respectively.

The three ministers issued a joint statement after their meeting welcoming the agreement by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum on a transitional unified executive authority for the country.

They also consider “any foreign intervention (in Libya) as unacceptable, and all agreements concluded in violation of international law as null and void.”


Israeli FM to visit Bahrain in first after diplomatic accord

Israeli FM to visit Bahrain in first after diplomatic accord
Updated 18 sec ago

Israeli FM to visit Bahrain in first after diplomatic accord

Israeli FM to visit Bahrain in first after diplomatic accord
JERUSALEM: Israel’s foreign minister said Friday that he will visit Bahrain later this month, the first such visit by an Israeli minister to the Gulf country following a diplomatic agreement reached last year.
Yair Lapid announced the visit in a conference call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and officials from Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco, which signed US-brokered agreements to normalize relations with Israel last year.
The officials hailed the so-called Abraham Accords, which have led to the opening of embassies, the launch of direct flights and a raft of agreements to boost economic ties. They expressed hope that the new relationships would be deepened and that other nations would follow suit.
“This Abraham Accords club is open to new members,” Lapid said, before announcing that he plans to visit Bahrain by the end of the month. He visited the UAE in June and Morocco in August.
The Biden administration has welcomed the accords brokered by former President Donald Trump’s administration, and has pledged to build on them.
The Palestinians viewed the agreements as a betrayal of their national cause because they further eroded a longstanding Arab consensus that recognition of Israel should be conditioned on progress toward the creation of a Palestinian state.
Blinken, who hosted the video conference, said “we all must build on these relationships and growing normalization to make tangible improvements in the lives of Palestinians and to make progress toward the longstanding goal of advancing a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita called the accords a “historic event that is worth commemorating,” but said that relaunching the peace process with the Palestinians is “fundamental.”
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani said more should be done to showcase the benefits of cooperation.
“We need to demonstrate what genuine regional peace, interdependence and prosperity can mean in practice for the day-to-day lives of all the peoples of the Middle East,” he said.

Blinken says US to help foster Israel's ties with Arab states

Blinken says US to help foster Israel's ties with Arab states
Updated 47 min 5 sec ago

Blinken says US to help foster Israel's ties with Arab states

Blinken says US to help foster Israel's ties with Arab states
  • Blinken said Washington would work to deepen Israel's long-standing relationship with Egypt and Jordan
  • He said the US will encourage other countries to normalise ties with Israel

WASHINGTON: The United States will help foster Israel's growing ties with Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates as well as Sudan and Kosovo while encouraging other countries to normalise ties with Israel, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday.
Speaking at an event marking the first anniversary of Abraham Accords, US-brokered agreements which have ushered in public rapprochements between Israel and several Arab states, Blinken also said Washington would work to deepen Israel's long-standing relationship with Egypt and Jordan.


US issues sanctions tied to supporters of Hezbollah, Iran

US issues sanctions tied to supporters of Hezbollah, Iran
Updated 35 min 44 sec ago

US issues sanctions tied to supporters of Hezbollah, Iran

US issues sanctions tied to supporters of Hezbollah, Iran

WASHINGTON: The United States said on Friday it was sanctioning Lebanon and Kuwait-based financial conduits that fund the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah as well as financial facilitators and front companies that support the group and Iran.
Hezbollah "continues to exploit the legitimate commercial sector for financial and material support, which enables the group to carry out acts of terrorism and degrade Lebanon’s political institutions," Treasury said in the announcement.
The sanctions also apply to businessman Morteza Minaye Hashemi, who lives in China and who had funneled money to Iran's Qods Force, Treasury said. Two Chinese nationals had helped Hashemi establish bank accounts and served as straw owners for his companies, which were based in Hong Kong and mainland China, according to the Treasury release.


Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing

Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing
Updated 17 September 2021

Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing

Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing
  • Raisi hailed the opportunity that membership would provide for Iran to join important trade links across Eurasia

Iran joined a rapidly expanding central Asian security body led by Russia and China on Friday, calling on the countries in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to help it form a mechanism to avert sanctions imposed by the West.
The body, formed in the 2001 as a talking shop for Russia, China and ex-Soviet states in Central Asia, expanded four years ago to include India and Pakistan, with a view to playing a bigger role as counterweight to Western influence in the region.
In a sign of its growing influence, the body’s summit in Tajikistan was the first appearance abroad of Iran’s new hard-line president, Ebrahimi Raisi, since taking office in August.
Raisi hailed the opportunity that membership would provide for Iran, as a country along China’s “Belt and Road” route, to join important trade links across Eurasia. Iranian television described Iran’s membership as giving it access to huge markets across the continent.
In his speech to members, Raisi compared sanctions on Iran to terrorism, and said the organization should design a mechanism that helps Tehran avert them.
Russia and China, along with Western countries, are parties of a 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers under which Tehran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
Washington abandoned that deal in 2018 and unilaterally reimposed financial sanctions. Negotiations this year to revive it have been stalled since Raisi’s election.
“Nothing can stop Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities that are within the framework of international regulations,” Raisi said. “Diplomacy is only effective when all parties adhere to it. Threats and pressure tie diplomacy’s hands and render it ineffective.”


New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal

New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal
Updated 17 September 2021

New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal

New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal
  • The audit is a key requirement for Lebanon to secure foreign aid

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s new government raised gasoline prices on Friday, cutting a subsidy that Prime Minister Najib Mikati has said is unaffordable as he advances plans to address a devastating financial collapse.
The government also signed a new contract with restructuring consultancy Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) to carry out a forensic audit of the central bank, a step sought by donors who want to see Beirut enact reforms to unlock badly needed aid.
The Mikati government, which took office a week ago, has promised action to address the crisis, including talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a start to reforms.
IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said on Thursday there had been courtesy calls with members of the new government and the Fund stood ready to engage in the period ahead. Talks between the previous government and the IMF broke down last year.
The World Bank says Lebanon’s economic collapse is one of the worst on record.
The currency has slumped more than 90 percent since 2019, more than three quarters of the population have been driven into poverty, the banking system is paralyzed and a hard currency crunch has led to shortages of vital imports, including fuel.
Lebanon has been suppressing fuel prices by providing dollars at subsidised exchange rates well below the pound’s price on the parallel market, with the stated aim of shielding people hit by the collapse.
Critics say the system has given rise to smuggling and hoarding, contributing to shortages that have crippled normal life and spawned a black market where gasoline has been sold at enormously inflated prices.
Fuel prices issued on Friday raised the gasoline price by more than 37 percent with immediate effect.
“This is the stage before last of lifting the subsidy,” said Georges Braks, a member of the Petrol Station Owners’ syndicate, who expects the subsidy to be removed by the end of September.
He said the new prices were based on an exchange rate around 12,000 pounds per dollar.
This compares with a rate of 8,000 pounds per dollar that the previous government agreed for fuel prices last month, but is still below the rate on the parallel market, where dollars were changing hands at 14,600 on Friday.
The central bank said last month it could no longer afford to provide dollars for fuel at heavily subsidised rates.
The move means importers will still be sourcing dollars from the central bank rather than the market and so a subsidy still applies, said Mike Azar, a senior Beirut-based financial adviser.
The pound has strengthened from around 19,000 per dollar since Mikati took office, ending a year of political conflict over cabinet seats that left Lebanon rudderless.
The IMF has recommended Lebanon unify the multiple exchange rates along with other steps including the central bank audit.
Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, formerly a senior central bank official, signed the contract with A&M, which the ministry said would present an initial report within 12 weeks of its team starting work.
A&M withdrew from the audit last November, saying it had not received the information it required. The finance ministry said in April the central bank had agreed to hand over required documents.
Parliament then agreed in December to lift banking secrecy for one year, amid much back-and-forth between Lebanese officials including the finance ministry and the central bank over whether certain information could be disclosed.
Lebanon’s talks with the IMF last year broke down largely due to a dispute over the scale of losses in the financial system. A plan drawn up by the previous government said these amounted to some $90 billion, a figure endorsed by the IMF but rejected by Lebanese banks and the political elite.